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Home Innovation Innovation Microsoft teacher awards spearhead push for change

Microsoft teacher awards spearhead push for change

Microsoft Partners in Learning award winnersMicrosoft honours teachers at Partners in Learning event that has matured into a lever for change
Cardiff teacher Gareth Ritter (pictured above right – with dragon!) was first runner-up in the "Innovation in Challenging Contexts" category at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington DC (full award results below).

The work of Jennifer King, who teaches at Strode's College, Egham, was also celebrated at this major education event where the stress is on every participant being a winner. The final awards were announced at a high-profile event in the capital's Donald W Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of Worldwide Education, said: “Education is critical to the social and economic development of every nation and to the ability of individuals everywhere to reach their full potential.

“We are honored to recognise these amazing professionals for the work they do every day to enrich the educational experiences of children around the world.”

Partners in Learning has developed into a major global community of teachers that is focused on changing teaching and learning to make it relevant to what have become known as 21st century skills – the attributes that will enable young people to become effective citizens and employees for today's societies. Teachers and schools new to the project are nurtured and mentored so that they, in turn can support the next 'generation' intake to the scheme. And they all take part in a research programme that feeds back into the system to bring about further changes (see also "Microsoft research 'a roadmap for schools innovation'") and that shares insights with educators worldwide.

Partners in Learning, an investment of nearly $500 million over 10 years

The 10-year programme, now in the eighth year of an almost $500 million investment initiated by Bill Gates, was influential in the decision by the US Government to give Microsoft responsibility for taking over and extending its TEACH teacher recruitment campaign and US education secretary Arne Duncan was on hand with sone very warm words of encouragement for teacher innovation and international collaboration (see also "Microsoft US teacher recruitment coup down to PIL").

A visit to the finalists' hall in the J W Marriot hotel in Washington DC, just a couple of blocks from the White House, was an overwhelming experience. The finalists had been whittled down from more than 115 projects and more than 200,000 teachers had competed at national and regional events over 12 months to get to this annual Partners in Learning Global Forum.

It wasn't so much the 700-odd teachers from around 70 countries that made it overwhelming, but the quality and variety of the entries and the passion for their learners that this truly global teacher community communicates. There was no doubt about the technology innovation. This was one of the few places where you could see Microsoft's Kinect technology in the service of learning. Seattle educators were in action, stretching and reaching out 'into' screens to "pick up" fish as part of the award-winning interactive exploration of their city's famous Pike Street fish market that they created in a collaborative project with their learners.

Chinese teacher Ching Chi Cheung from Hong Kong and Macau Lutheran Church Primary School astounded his UK colleagues with the best demonstration of "augmented reality" they had ever seen, all done with a freely available open source program. While Microsoft's technology has it's own section in the awards, it was interesting to discover that the program which most often emerged from unsolicited praise from educators was Microsoft's OneNote, which they felt was their most useful collaborative tool.

As this event has matured, however, so has the guiding message – pedagogy trumps technology. Another award winner, San Diego's High Tech High (see videos below) exhibited innovative uses of technology in its "Illuminated Mathematics" project that demonstrated the everyday relevance of maths by exploring it in other subjects where it's also important, like music and art for example, to engage learners.

Similarly, the projects of the UK's Gareth Ritter and Jennifer King were both based on strong pedagogies and engaged learners by involving them in activities that appealed to their own interests and needs. The technology was the means rather than the end. In the videos below, recorded at a final Washington DC lunch (hence the challenging audio) they explain what the Partners in Learning programme means to them.

Perhaps the best advocates for changes in pedagogy and technology are the learners themselves. Franklin Pierce High School (Tacoma) student Tono Sablan, aged 15, attended the event with his language arts teacher, Colin Horak. A Microsoft Innovative Teacher, Colin Horak was happy to put forward his student to present on the U.N.I.T.E project they created to counter bullying at this Washington State secondary school.

They used the "If you only knew me..." statement to create a range of multimedia expressions to bring students together to understand one another. Social media like Facebook were put to use and the project took off with some interesting, and sometimes emotional, results (see Tono Sablan video below).

PIL programme is 'education's best kept secret'

However, a great strength of the programme is the care that has been taken to build in sustainability so that a culture of support and mentoring has been developed. UK educator Dan Buckley, who advises schools, local authorities and governments on learning and teaching in his role as a consultant for Cambridge Education considers the PIL event "education's best kept secret".

With colleagues like Scottish headteacher Tony McDaid and deputy head Ian Stuart (see videos below), who were also on hand to advise and support, he found PIL more rewarding than any other eduction event, particularly the cross-fertilisation of ideas and attitudes about learning across countries and cultures. Rather than 800 people talking about education, the PIL educators were actually doing it, and sharing ideas they could use in class the following Monday. "Hard work but lovely," he added.


One of the most difficult aspects of the Global Forum is language. With around 700 educators from some 70 countries wanting to share and learn together, trying to break the ice can be very frustrating unless there are translators at hand. That's why there was such a welcome to the news that  Microsoft now has its new PIL Innovative Teachers network available for use in beta (trial) mode, and that this website – free to use for participating educators – has machine translation capabilities for more than 30 languages.

In just eight years, this programme has achieved a truly global reach, has developed sustainable professional development and a research programme focused on discovering the keys to transforming learning and teaching to scale. Microsoft says that roughly a quarter of its business is academic, and its leaders say of PIL, "This isn't just what we do: this is what we are." With just two years left to the programme, it's reasonable to ask, "What comes next?" Maybe we'll find out in Athens, Greece, next year at Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2012.

Right now however, the project is proving a career changing moment for a huge number of teachers. So it's fitting that the last word on the Global Forum (in the video clip below) comes from a teacher, Ben Rowe, from Community School in Cornwall which is a PIL pathfinder school:

More information

Microsoft Partners in Learning 
PIL Global Forum awards
PIL Global Forum awards Flickr stream 
PIL YouTube channel
Innovative Teaching and Learning Research: 2011 Findings and Implications
To find out more about joining ITL Phase 2 contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
For background information from the 2010 event and earlier research findings see 'Innovative teaching the route to 21st Century skills'
PIL research tools for schools to identify and develop 21st century learning and teaching
See also "Microsoft research 'a roadmap for schools innovation'" 
... and "Microsoft US teacher recruitment coup down to PIL"

Full list of award-winners at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011

Extending Learning Beyond the Classroom
Winner: Chris Clay (New Zealand) for “Linking Educational Accomplishments to Real-World Needs”.
He created an online community that connects more than 140 teachers and students across New Zealand to tackle real-world biological challenges, working with real scientists through ICT. Students develop collaboration, critical-thinking, problem-solving, communication and digital literacy skills, as well as a love for learning.
First runner-up: Doreen McHale (Ireland) for “Birds of Bray”.
Designed to develop students’ nonfiction report writing skills within the context of a collaborative, local bird study. Students created a blog to collaborate with others on shared research and report writing projects, and to share their findings with others around the world.
Second runner-up: Tessa Van Zadelhoff (Netherlands) for “A Travel Agency in our Classroom”.
Via Twitter and a blog, students provided travel advice to a network of “customers.” By calculating costs via Microsoft Excel, creating digital tourist guides, videos, digital storybooks and translation guides, the students learned about European geography.

Winner: Doug Bergman, Johnny Kissko, Louis Zulli, Donna Thomas and Margaret Noble (United States) for “When Fish Fly”.
Integrating computer science, fine arts, business and economics, student design teams developed a dynamic motion-based game simulation for Kinect for Xbox 360 that replicates the sights, sounds, history and “sense of place” of Pike Place Fish Co. in Seattle, Washington.
First runner-up: Rui Silva (Portugal) for “Eco-Partnerships”.
Designed to improve students’ information communication technology skills while focused on environmental education, the project involves students interacting with other students in schools and organizations around the world via Facebook, Windows Live and other technology to share knowledge, experiences and works.
Second runner-up: Zhao Yi (China) for “Jack Magic Vegetables Company”.
To combat the scarcity of vegetables in China due to pesticides and limited outdoor space, students researched and developed a soil-less culture technique, and applied real-world business applications by setting up an online store for people in the community to buy the soilless devices.

Knowledge Building and Critical Thinking
Winner: Margaret Noble and David Stahnke (United States) for “Illuminated Mathematics”.
Using technology and creativity, students researched maths theories and then produced self-selected digital art projects, which examined mathematics through the lenses of art, history and science. This inspired students to dig deeper, find real-world applications and develop their own perspective and understanding of how mathematics impacts their world.
First runner-up: Athena Hain-Saunders (Australia) for “Real Science Beyond the Classroom”.
Using their outside environment as a working laboratory, students conduct research and scientific monitoring and experimentation at a local wetland. This project lets students be hands-on learners, working with professional scientists to learn about biology, and collect meaningful data to support critical university research.
Second runner-up: Kara Barker and Roger Lister (Sweden) for “Forensic Science”.
Increases enthusiasm for natural science and maths by incorporating forensics to help solve crimes. Weekly labs where students experiment in a variety of areas such as DNA, anthropology, and hair and fiber evidences are applied using various tools such as Windows Movie Maker, podcasts, OneNote and SharePoint.

Innovation in Challenging Contexts
Winner: Sandra Caldas Saragoca (Brazil) for “Education Beyond Walls”.
Focuses on educating and mentoring girls aged 12 to 21, who are currently in prison. Through this project, students learn valuable interpersonal, social and academic skills, and then use technology tools like Windows Movie Maker to engage and share lessons with students in local schools.
First runner-up: Gareth Ritter (United Kingdom) for “Interactive Resources Made by Pupils for Pupils”.
Engaging students’ natural interest in music and technology to encourage a creative and student-directed learning environment. Through this project, students researched music recording production and created video tutorials to support the learning of others. Students learned new music and business skills, while mentoring others, and recordings supported production of the school podcast station and a new album recorded in the school studio.
Second runner-up: Sangeet Shukramani (India) for “One Earth … Our Earth — Together We Can Make A Difference”.
Aimed at creating awareness and sensitizing students toward the 21st century’s most issue-environment conservation. Students learned about their immediate environment and collaborated with students and teachers around the world.

Cutting-Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning
Winner: Louis Zulli Jr, (United States) for “Center for Advanced Technologies News and Information Portal (CATNIP)”: Using a wide variety of technology programs, students collaboratively developed and managed their school’s intranet, which integrates campus communication, curriculum planning and facilities management into one site.
First runner-up: Steven Ronsijn (Belgium) for “genY”.
This project put students in control of their own learning, using technology tools including live@edu, video and Microsoft Tag to create interactive lessons for younger students. Through this project, students became teachers and the teacher became the student in learning new technology skills.
Second runner-up: Zainuddin Zakaria (Malaysia) for “Kodu in Classrooms Around the World”: Students create games using Microsoft Kodu Game Lab that teach environmental lessons. Students learn co-operation, logic and creativity in addition to programming, and share the games with students around the world.

Educators’ Choice
Best Practice: Carlos Antonio Carlo (El Salvador) for “I Want to Make Movies”.
Designed to create significant learning opportunities where students are protagonists of their own learning. Through this effort, students used Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Player.
First runner-up: Marina Vasileva (Macedonia) for “Grandma’s Games”.
Encourages students from kindergarten to college to survey family members and preserve traditional games and culture through information communications technology. Students created videos and lesson plans for the games, and one student created a Kinect for Xbox 360 game based on a family tradition.
Second runner-up: Wen-Ching Yang and I-Fa Su (Taiwan) for “Travel the World Together from the Bazhang River”.
From observations of the characteristics and behavior of the Black-winged Stilt, students explore and learn about the annual migration of birds through project-based learning.

Participants were judged by an international panel of 50 education experts on a number of criteria. Through virtual classroom tours and on-site interviews by judges, these teachers demonstrated innovative teaching practice, giving their students critical 21st-century skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking and social responsibility, by leveraging effective and engaging technology resources.

Comments (1)
1 Wednesday, 16 November 2011 01:35
Thanks for the great summation. It was truly a life-changing experience and I'm so happy to have been a part of it. Congratulations to all those who were honored with awards and to those who were honored simply by being present. If you were there, you know exactly what I mean.

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